Understanding raw pet food diet

Variety of raw steak meat, laying on a dark coloured surface

My cat has been or raw food diet since he was a kitten. I remember being so overwhelmed with the amount of articles, posts and opinions on this topic when I was just getting into it. So if you’re considering jumping on this bandwagon, you came to the right place! Lemme put everything I’ve learned in here, so it can be your guide!

I want to start this blog post by saying that you and your comfort are most important. If handling raw meat sends shivers down your spine, or if it seems like “too much work” to fit it in your busy schedule – it’s totally okay to stick with what works for you! This method of feeding is a bit more work than kibble or canned food, but it’s absolutely doable! As you will see in a bit, there are different ways to raw feeding.

It’s okay to start with baby steps, too! I wrote a blog post on 5 simple ways to enrich your pet’s meals!

Jump to:

  1. What to consider before feeding your cat raw food
  2. What is raw food diet
  3. The benefits of raw food diet
  4. The potential risks of raw food diet, and how to avoid them
  5. Potential drawbacks
  6. Types of raw pet food
  7. What is the best raw cat food
  8. How to make raw cat food
  9. How much raw food to feed your pet
  10. How long can raw cat food sit out
  11. How to store raw cat food
  12. How to transition your pet to raw food
  13. How to get cat to eat raw food
  14. Disclaimer

If you are considering feeding your cat a raw diet:

Whether or not a raw cat food diet is right for your cat depends on a number of factors, including your cat’s health, your budget, and your lifestyle. If you are considering switching your cat to a raw diet, it is important to talk to your veterinarian first. They can help you to decide if a raw diet is right for your cat and how to safely transition your cat to a new diet.

In many veterinary circles, raw feeding is discouraged and clients that feed their pets a raw diet may never mention it to their vet. Alternatively, because it seems taboo, your veterinarian might hesitate to suggest raw as an alternative for a pet that just isn’t thriving on a kibble diet. Big Country Raw created this amazing sheet to help you and your vet understand the raw pet food diet.

What is raw cat food diet

The raw cat food diet, often referred to as a “raw diet” or “BARF” (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), has gained popularity among cat owners seeking to provide a more natural and healthier diet to their feline friends.

A raw cat food diet primarily consists of uncooked, raw ingredients that mimic what cats would eat in the wild. This diet typically includes:

Raw Meat: High-quality, human-grade meats are the foundation of a raw cat food diet. There are lots of proteins to choose, from “regular” ones such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish; to more “fancy” meats like kangaroo, duck, venison, boar, elk… the list goes on!

Organ Meat: Organ meats like liver and heart are essential for providing essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and taurine.

Bones: Crushed or ground bone is included to supply calcium and phosphorus, which are crucial for a cat’s bone health.

Supplements: Some raw diets incorporate supplements to ensure that cats receive all the necessary vitamins and minerals.

Fruits and Vegetables: While cats are obligate carnivores and primarily require meat, some raw diets may include small amounts of fruits and vegetables for added nutrients and fiber.

Raw cat food displayed on a table, cat standing beside it The Benefits of Raw Food Diet

There are a number of potential benefits to feeding your cat a raw food diet. It’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates, which is more in line with a cat’s natural diet. High carb food can cause some serious health problems

Commercial cat foods are often packed with additives and fillers. Raw food diet is made of fresh ingredients which is so much better for your pet. 

Nutritional Benefits

One of the main advantages of a raw cat food diet is that it closely mimics a cat’s natural diet in the wild. It typically consists of high-quality meat, organs, and bones, which provide essential nutrients like protein, amino acids, taurine, and much much more. This can lead to improved muscle tone, healthier skin and fur, and better overall health.

Dental Health

Chewing on raw bones can help maintain your cat’s dental health by reducing plaque and tartar buildup. This natural teeth-cleaning process can help prevent dental issues like gum disease and tooth decay. It won’t replace teeth brushing, but it definitely helps A LOT. Click here to learn how you can look after your pet’s dental health.

Improved Digestion

A raw diet can help to improve gut health. A healthy gut is essential for overall health and well-being, including energy levels. Some cat owners report that their pets have better digestion on a raw food diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, and their digestive systems are designed to process animal protein efficiently. Raw meat can be easier for them to digest compared to processed kibble.

Another great benefit of raw food diet is better stools – less stinky, smaller, firmer… you name it haha! If you want to learn the science behind it, click here. 

Better Coat and Skin

A raw cat food diet typically consists of high-quality animal protein sources, such as muscle meat and organs. These protein sources contain essential amino acids that are necessary for the development of healthy skin and a shiny coat.

Many brands include Omega-3s, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce skin inflammation and itching, leading to healthier skin and a more lustrous coat. In addition to these benefits, a raw diet can also help to reduce shedding and mats. This is because raw diets help to keep the skin and coat healthy and moisturized.

Weight Management

Raw diets are typically low in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body, and excess glucose is stored as fat. By reducing your cat’s intake of carbohydrates, you can help to reduce their overall calorie intake and promote weight loss.

Another great benefit of raw diet is it can be easily tailored to a cat’s specific nutritional needs, potentially aiding in weight management.

Proper Hydration

Wild cats get most of their fluid intake from the foods they consume – their natural prey have around 70-80% moisture content. However, dry food is only 5-10% water. And if your cat does drink plenty of water, it is not enough to compensate for the lack of moisture from their food. Which means that those cats live in a constant state of low dehydration which can lead to urinary and kidney problems.

Raw and canned diets have around 65-80% moisture content which is pretty much the same as what their natural prey would have.

Reduced Allergies

Commercial cat foods often contain fillers and artificial additives that can trigger allergies or sensitivities in some cats. These allergic reactions can manifest as skin problems, including itching, rashes, and dull coats. A raw food diet eliminates many potential allergens, leading to improved skin and coat conditions in cats with food sensitivities.

Another great thing about raw cat food is you can find brands selling novelty proteins – like kangaroo, that is less likely to cause allergies or sensitivities.

Increased Energy and Vitality

Raw cat food diets typically avoid artificial additives, preservatives, and fillers commonly found in commercial cat foods. These additives can sometimes lead to lethargy or digestive issues in cats. Eliminating these additives can contribute to increased energy and vitality.

The high-quality protein found in raw cat food helps support and maintain healthy muscle mass. Strong muscles are essential for agility and vitality, enabling cats to engage in play and physical activities with ease.

Cat eating fish Potential Risks and how to avoid them

A lot of the risks mentioned here are concerns I’ve read about on the internet. Some of them are genuine cause for concern (but not impossible to avoid), and some I included here so this can be a complete guide for you 😊

Nutritional Imbalances

Now this one applies to a homemade raw food… Formulating a balanced raw cat food diet can be challenging, and improper preparation may lead to nutritional imbalances. Cats require specific nutrients in precise ratios, including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Imbalances can lead to nutritional deficiencies or excesses. I prefer to choose a pre-made raw food diet that is specifically formulated for cats – this way I can have a peace of mind. 

Inadequate Taurine

Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats, and deficiencies can lead to severe health problems, including heart disease and vision issues. Raw meat alone may not always provide sufficient taurine, so supplementation or careful selection of taurine-rich ingredients is necessary.

The good news is, taurine is not toxic in cats and is water-soluble, so any extra the cat can’t use just gets flushed out in their urine.

Expense

Feeding a raw cat food diet can be more costly than commercial cat food. High-quality meat, organs, and supplements can add up quickly, making it less affordable for some cat owners.

This one I don’t really agree on, but I wanted to include it in this post. Big Country Raw created a pretty good calculator for estimating how much it would cost to feed your pet. In my opinion, feeding your pet raw food can be cheaper than commercial food. Find out what days your local pet stores have discount/ sale days, and stock up on your pet food. And if you want to get into homemade cat food, it might be a bit pricy in the beginning, but as you gain experience and knowledge, you will be able to optimize the recipes. And definitely stocking up on the supplies during sales.

Safety Concerns

Proper food safety practices are essential when preparing and serving raw food. Raw food must be thawed and prepared safely to avoid bacterial contamination. Thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and thoroughly wash your hands, utensils, and all surfaces after handling raw food. Click here to read a blog post on the possible risk of salmonella when feeding your pet raw food.

Parasites: Raw meat can contain parasites like Toxoplasma and Trichinella, which can infect cats. These parasites can cause various health issues, including gastrointestinal problems and, in severe cases, organ damage. It’s important you source your produce from reliable sources, and follow safe food practices. That’s why I prefer to get pre-made raw food, as they undergo very thorough testing, and most of the time they are deep frozen for couple weeks before being shipped for to stores. This makes sure that any harmful parasites and bacteria is taken care of.

Bone Hazards

This is another risk that can be easily avoided. If you worry about including bones into your home made food, you can replace it with a supplement – like calcium or ground eggshells.

Raw cat food diets often include bones, which can be a choking hazard or lead to dental injuries if not adequately prepared or if cats don’t chew them properly.

Bone splinters can also cause gastrointestinal blockages or perforations. Bone splinters mostly happen if you give your pet cooked bones, as they become brittle and easily break.

Upset Tummy

Some cats may experience digestive upset when transitioning to a raw diet, including diarrhea and vomiting. A gradual transition and monitoring of your cat’s response are essential to minimize these issues. It’s also great to include probiotics during the transition – my favourite type is goat milk!

You could also gently cook the food – which can be easier on cat’s tummies during the transition. Just make sure to cook it on low heat.

Cat looking at a bowl with raw meet Potential drawbacks

One of the biggest potential drawbacks is travelling with a cat who is on a raw food. However, everything is possible! Check out my post on how I feed my cat when travelling. Long story short: I feed my cat canned, pouches, or dehydrated raw, depending on the available “amenities”.

Some house sitters (whether it’s a family member, a friend, or someone you hire), might not feel comfortable handling raw meat. My husband can’t stand it, so we always have couple cans of cat food on hand, so he can feed Chumka when I am not available.

Types of raw pet food

Raw food comes in couple different “forms” – home made, commercial, whole prey, raw meaty bones (though they are meant as a treat and should not be fed as a complete meal), and hybrid – which is combining both raw food and commercial wet/ dry food.

Commercial food comes in a variety of “forms” – frozen raw, freeze-dried, airdried, dehydrated, gently cooked, pure meat, and balanced/ complete (though those ones do not mean the same, let’s just keep it simple in this post).

What is the best raw cat food

Just like I mentioned in the beginning, “the best food” is, first of all, what works for you and your circumstances.

Determining the “best” raw cat food can be subjective and may depend on various factors, including your cat’s individual dietary needs, preferences, and any specific health considerations. What works well for one cat may not be suitable for another. To select the best raw cat food for your feline companion, consider the following:

Consult with a Veterinarian

Before making any dietary changes, consult with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about raw feeding. They can assess your cat’s specific health requirements and provide guidance on selecting an appropriate raw cat food.

Convenience

Consider how much time and effort you are willing to put into preparing and feeding your cat a raw diet. Some raw foods are frozen or freeze-dried and need to be thawed or rehydrated before feeding. Others are ready-to-eat.

Choose a high-quality raw food diet

It is important to choose a raw food diet that is made with high-quality ingredients and that is properly formulated to meet your cat’s nutritional needs. Some raw food companies “go out of their way” to be HACCP approved – meaning, they abide by the same food safety standards followed by companies manufacturing food for human consumption. It’s a really good sign when considering pet food brand, as pet food industry is not as thoroughly regulated as human food industry.

Variety of Proteins

Cats can benefit from a variety of protein sources. Consider rotating protein options to provide a broader range of nutrients and to accommodate potential protein sensitivities. Feeding your pet a rotational diet means switching up different proteins, brands, and textures. If you feed your pet this way, they are less likely to develop food allergies or intolerances, and your pet won’t become a picky eater!

Balanced Nutrition

Ensure that the raw cat food you choose is balanced and formulated to meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) or another appropriate nutritional standard. Balanced nutrition is essential to maintain your cat’s health over the long term.

Remember that what works best for you and your cat may require some trial and error. Some cats may prefer certain protein sources or forms of raw food over others. It’s essential to be patient and flexible in finding the right raw cat food that meets your cat’s dietary needs and preferences while ensuring their overall health and well-being.

Raw cat foodHow to make raw cat food

I really don’t feel qualified (at the moment) to give recipes or guidance on this topic. However, I have couple resources for you!

Feline Nutrition – Feeding Cats like Cats is a great Facebook group full of helpful posts and feedback. You can find some recipes in there as well.

Red Dog Blue Kat created an amazing ebook explaining how you can save money while feeding your pet raw food, as well as some raw food recipes that you can make yourself.

There are lots of sites and blogs that offer custom recipes for you and your pet. Some are more expensive than others, but please make sure you are reaching out to a professional.

How much raw food to feed your pet

The amount of raw food to feed your pet depends on several factors, including the pet’s age, weight, activity level, metabolism, and the specific raw food diet being used. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula, but there are general guidelines to help you determine the appropriate amount to feed your pet.

Remember to regularly monitor your pet’s weight and adjust the amount of food accordingly. If your pet is gaining or losing weight outside of a healthy range, make appropriate changes to the feeding amount.

Guidelines for feeding raw food to dogs

Percentage of Body Weight: A common guideline for adult dogs on a raw food diet is to feed them approximately 2-3% of their body weight per day. For example, if your dog weighs 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms), you would feed them approximately 1 to 1.5 pounds (0.45 to 0.68 kilograms) of raw food per day.

Puppies: Growing puppies typically require a higher percentage of their body weight in food, often ranging from 4% to 10% or more, depending on their age and breed. Consult with a veterinarian or breeder for specific recommendations for your puppy.

Active Dogs: More active dogs may require a higher percentage of their body weight in food, while less active or senior dogs may need less. Adjust the amount of food based on your dog’s activity level and energy needs.

Guidelines for feeding raw food to cats

Percentage of Body Weight: Cats typically require a higher percentage of their body weight in food compared to dogs. The guideline for adult cats is often around 2-4% of their body weight per day. For example, if your cat weighs 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), you would feed them approximately 3.2 to 6.4 ounces (91 to 182 grams) of raw food per day.

Kittens: Growing kittens may require a higher percentage of their body weight in food, often ranging from 5% to 8% or more, depending on their age and breed. Consult with a veterinarian or breeder for specific recommendations for your kitten.

Activity Level: Cats with a more active lifestyle may require a higher percentage of food, while less active indoor cats may need less. Adjust the amount of food based on your cat’s activity level and energy needs.

It’s crucial to remember that these are general guidelines, and individual pets may have unique needs. Factors like the specific raw food diet you’re using, the quality of ingredients, and any underlying health conditions can also influence feeding amounts. Consulting with a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist who is knowledgeable about raw feeding can help you develop a tailored feeding plan for your pet to ensure they receive the appropriate amount of nutrition for their specific requirements.

2 kittens eating raw meat from a white bowl How long can raw cat food sit out

Raw food should not be left out of the fridge for more than two hours. This is because bacteria can grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4-60°C), which is known as the “danger zone.” When raw food is left at temperatures within this range for too long, harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly, increasing the risk of foodborne illnesses.

If you need to thaw raw meat, it is best to do so in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can use the defrost function on a microwave or place the meat in an airtight plastic bag and submerge it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Do not thaw raw meat at room temperature, as it can rapidly reach the danger zone.

How to store raw cat food

Raw cat food should be stored in the refrigerator at temperatures below 40°F (4°C). Ideally, use an airtight container or seal the raw food in a plastic bag or wrap it securely to prevent odors from permeating your fridge and to prevent cross-contamination with other foods.

Ensure that the raw cat food remains cold during storage and handling. Use a cooler with ice packs to maintain a safe temperature when transporting it from the store to your house, or during travelling.

If your cat doesn’t consume all of the raw food within a reasonable time (typically within a few hours), discard any remaining food to prevent spoilage and bacterial growth.

If you’re using commercial raw cat food, follow the storage instructions provided by the manufacturer. They may have specific recommendations for their product.

How to transition your pet to raw food

It is important to be patient when transitioning your pet to raw food. It may take some time for them to adjust to the new diet. If you have any concerns, be sure to talk to your veterinarian.

I switched my cat to raw food cold turkey… Can you do that? Yes, but… It’s not ideal. My cat had such upset tummy, that I wanted to cry. I was young and dumb, and figured that since he was so eager to try it, he would be fine with such rapid change…

  1. Start by mixing a small amount of raw food with your pet’s regular food. You can start with as little as 10% raw food and gradually increase the amount over time.
  2. Monitor your pet’s stool for any signs of digestive upset. If your pet’s stool is loose or watery, reduce the amount of raw food you are feeding.
  3. As your pet becomes more accustomed to the raw food, gradually increase the portion of raw food while decreasing the previous diet. Aim to reach a point where your pet is exclusively eating the raw food. The transition period can vary from a few days to several weeks, depending on your pet’s comfort and adaptability.

You can also add probiotics – either in powder form, or goat milk – to help your pet’s tummy.

And if you’re unsure, you can also schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor your pet’s health and ensure they are thriving on the new diet. Your veterinarian can provide guidance and make any necessary adjustments to the diet plan.

How to get cat to eat raw food

I think I will make another blog post addressing why cats are “picky” eaters, and some simple solutions to this. But for now here are couple suggestions/ ideas:

  • Add their favourite treat as a topping
  • Play with them before feeding
  • Feed smaller portions but more frequently, rather than 2-3 “big” meals
  • Add a little bit of warm water to it; this will warm the food up a bit and enhance its aroma a bit

Disclaimer

The decision to switch your cat to a raw food diet should be made carefully and with consideration of your cat’s individual needs and preferences. It’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian, who can provide guidance and ensure your cat receives the necessary nutrients for optimal health.


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Paulina, Chumka's Mom

Paulina, Chumka's Mom

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